Friday, 6 September 2013

Tara O'Neill: Grabbing Students Attention

Karyn’s Introduction:

Having started the year with way too few teachers- due to having more students arrive than was estimated- we were given some extra staffing. 
So after teaching full time through Term 1 to cater for the extra students I was relieved to get to the end of the term and be able to employ a couple of extra teaching staff.

Tara was one of these teachers. 

Tara was employed in a literacy support position in 2011. In 2012 and 2013 she has been a classroom teacher. 

We have always encouraged our staff to find innovative ways to meet student learning needs.

Tara shares a story with us about her current classroom learning programmes.

One of the things I most love about learning at TKAS is that we have access to Computers.

I love this quote from “Mindstorms - Children, Computers, and Powerful Ideas” by Seymour Papert.  “In many schools today, the phrase, “computer-aided instruction” means making the computer teach the child.  One might say the computer is being used to programme the child.  In my vision the child programs the computer and in doing so both acquires a sense of mastery over a piece of the most modern and powerful technology and establishes an intimate contact with some of the deepest ideas from science, from mathematics and from the art of intellectual model building.”  This book was published in the 1980’s.   Have a think about what you are doing with technology and how it fits in with this quote.

Scary stuff.......So when I say that we use I Pads and Laptops, I don’t mean to aide instruction, although this happens, but what is most exciting is to use the technology to grab learners attention and to empower our students to lead the way in their own learning.    It is also a very dangerous and scary journey for us as teachers because we don’t always control the learning, or the direction of it.  It means we have to trust our students and this is not always a pretty sight.

I have found this with MineCraft.  I have never seen my students more excited, more intensely passionate and more driven than I have with this intellectual model building App.  I have  stepped  back and watched as students explore, talk and learn together about concepts of life.  I have had the privilege of sitting with one of my students and having him teach me what to do.   “Come with me Miss...” as he grabs my IPad and shows me where he is on the screen.  “But I don’t know how to move?”  “Like this...”   “Oh I see, Hey, I’m doing this,  look there you are”  “But how do you fly?”  And so on....   I experienced so much learning myself.  It made me use parts of my brain, that I hadn’t used for a while and actually it hurt.  But most importantly, the relationship that was built between myself as the learner and the student as the teacher blew me away.  And I believe that it is this kind of emotive, relationship building, whanaungatanga that is really going to see learning accelerate.  

Minecraft allows the learner to have control over it not the other way around.  It is open-ended and teaches the player about cause and effect, building, survival, collaboration in order to survive, taking turns, consequences and concepts of space and time to name a few.  We have written stories about our adventures in Minecraft land.  We have had discussions into how we treat each other while playing multi-player.  Students have typed messages to each other.  Most of all we have talked together.

Hard thing to do...   I actually removed minecraft from my classes I Pads this week.  I know, here I go taking back the power again, but the thing is, one learner  wasn’t coping with the addictive feelings of needing to be on minecraft. He said himself that it was causing him difficulty in focusing on the rest of his learning. (He is 8 years old).  The other students were also having difficulty regulating their learning and I as the teacher was having difficulty dealing with the consequence of this.

 So we  have  spent this week chatting on and off about how we will manage this App as a group of learners.  We are going to trial having Minecraft on our I Pads for Fridays.  We will have MineCraft Fridays where all our learning will be using Minecraft and based around Minecraft.  

Journey on ......  It is my problem all of this you know....  I feel exposed, behind the game,  I just want to catch up and be able to use Minecraft to plan our learning experiences around.   We are starting on Fridays with some exciting adventures.  Firstly to have a go at designing a house for each other with special design features and then explain how we did this to one other learner.

I want to challenge you, when is the last time you felt exposed as a learner?  How did it feel?  What support was there for you?  And how are you using technology to do more than teach the student?  How are you using technology to help the student gain mastery?


  1. In response to Tara’s class and their learning on Minecraft

    Last week when I went into their class, I told them that since everyone was on this minecraft buzz I had better go and learn how to play it. We had a discussion around my first attempt at it as it was not a good one. I was stuck in this place then someone came along and put all this blue stuff around me and I couldn’t move, so I gave up. Most thought this was really funny as apparently it was just water and I had fallen into the sea. The condition was that they needed to finish their set learning and whatever time was left we would use in them teaching me how to play it.
    Anyway this challenge was readily accepted by the children and in no time three of them had finished their learning so we sat down to play. This was the conversation
    Me: Where am I?
    TRH: Here I will set you up then follow me. Open your world to me
    Me: How?
    TRH: Here like this. (And he changes the screen and slides a thing and then he is in.)
    TRH: Now follow me Miss
    Me: Where are you?
    TRH: here (and he is waving at me)
    Me: How do I move?
    TRH: Here use these buttons, just do this.
    So off we go exploring. Then Johan comes over. Can I come in to?
    So I let him in with TRH helping me. Then I hear him giggling away and he has set me on fire and put lava everywhere.
    So TRH says lets fly you need to get into the water.
    They had heaps of fun showing me different things on Minecraft and trying to kill me.
    Since that time I have noticed a big shift in our relationships. On Friday when they knew I was coming back into the classroom they were really excited as I had told them that I was saving my learning for them to continue teaching me about minecraft.
    Our lesson began with them setting me up again and then TRH came into my world and we built our houses side by side. His door faced opposite my door so we could go from one house to the other easily. Johan wanted to come and join us again but this time there was rules. Mainly that he was not to set me on fire or put lava everywhere. But he did add things like a tv and a trap door to my house.
    TRH kept saying you can come and live with me in my house. I have this and this. Johan kept telling me that my house was empty and needed furnishings so he started putting them in. Then I went to visit TRH’s world and he had a pyramid that was full of amazing things, trapdoors, lava, twists and tunnels and more trapdoors. I got completely lost in his place and had no idea how to get out but he knew exactly where everything was and the hidden passages to get out.
    It was a very interesting session. One boy ended up in tears as one of the other students killed him so she went over to apologise and another went to help and all three of them got him going again and were helping him to restore his place. Under normal circumstances these three together do not help each other unless there is something in it for them or some kind of bribery is used.
    These were just some of the things that I saw happen in that session:
    - Collaboration of students that normally wouldn’t help each other.
    - Team work
    - Problem solving
    - Measurement
    - Thinking
    - Managing self
    - Manaakitanga
    - Whanaungatanga
    - They were the teacher/facilitator

    1. I think what got some of them more than anything is they got to be the teacher/facilitator. I went in as the student and they were the teacher. I told them how I learn and they got that straight away. They offered me help and every now and then I would get “Are you alright miss, do you need help?” This got me thinking… Do we come into class with that frame of mind ourselves? Are we really just accepting of the learning styles of our children and do we cater for them in all our teaching?
      They were really keen to take up the challenge and it really does change the way we interact and view each other. It takes away the perception of the teacher knowing it all and having all the answers to one that, “we are all on a learning journey together”.
      There will be times when they get to take over and teach us or facilitate our learning with what they know. This is one of those times.
      I can honestly say I am not much of a person for internet games and stuff like that but this is not about the game. The game is just the vehicle that is being used to achieve something much bigger. With this in mind I have no problem sitting down with them and letting them become the facilitator of learning.

    2. I am so pleased that you have jumped in the water and learnt from Minecraft and the students. Thanks for commenting.

  2. Cool! Minecraft is a great tool I agree. Im with you on that journey too TAra and Ranier. Exciting times ladies exciting times!

  3. I used minecraft as a tool for my deaf student to explain the rules to me.

    She too exhibited enthusiasm for the opportunity to be the teacher and expert, and it allowed me another opportunity to record and analyse her oral language.

  4. Thanks Tara. I’m yet to have a decent go at Minecraft, but Im going to make it a goal over the school holidays. When we went to an Eduignite evening at Amesbury School last week, one of the speakers talked about her experiences with Minecraft. She runs a lunchtime club and is going to start using it in the classroom.